By Stephanie Weaver, as told to Kate Rope
Sometimes when people talk about migraine, they talk about your brain being broken. I do not like to think about it that way.
I think of my brain as a Maserati. It works well under specific circumstances, and I manage my attacks pretty well as long as I:
- Do it with the right things
- Get the right amount of sleep
- Drink water regularly
- Exercise consistently
Accepting and responding to this simple fact has become a game changer.
I have had migraines all my life. But my attacks were not what were considered typical, so I flew under the radar. Since it always happened when the weather changed, I just called it my “weather headaches”.
At the age of 53, I started getting severe vertigo. I could not drive and I could not work. I found a neurologist who diagnosed migraines with Meniere’s disease (a condition that affects the balance system in our inner ear, which usually leads to hearing loss). He sent me home with medication and a new diet to try.
Focus on a good life
Both helped, and I started doing research (I have a master’s degree in public health in nutrition education). I went to the American Headache Society conferences and heard about new new research on lifestyle changes, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation, that helps people with migraines. I included them all – and the dietary changes I made – in a diet and lifestyle guide to help people with migraine headaches to stimulate their brains so that their seizures are kept to a minimum.
I also had to deal with fibromyalgia and chronic back pain from a fall in my early 20s. If you are chronically ill, you have to give up a lot of things. My back pain prevented me from doing things I love, like dancing and cycling. I can be very angry about it, or I can focus on the things I can still do.
I can get up every day and go for a walk. Maybe I can not dance, but I can still listen to music.
Acceptance was absolutely essential to be able to live with my chronic pain and migraine attacks.
Part of this is radical honesty, which opposes the whole Instagram culture of portraying life as perfect. Our society relies on people talking about diseases and aging, so for the past two years I have become very public as an advocate for people with migraines.
I post photos when I attack, and I talk openly about it. I also share things that help me, like acceptance, meditation and eating well.
Benefits of awareness
Awareness and learning to live in the present moment makes a big difference in terms of accepting where we are with our bodies everyone aging. Illness is inevitable at some point. We all live in a state of decay at a given time.
I can spend a lot of time worrying about whether my migraine illness will get worse or my medication will stop working. But if I am in the present moment, I can realize today that I feel pretty good. I walked 2 miles this morning and ate a delicious breakfast.
Being aware also helps me to know when an attack can occur. If your body is ready for migraines, there are signs that you can easily miss, such as cravings for food, excessive yawning and irritability.
If I see these small changes in my body, I can do the things that will make the attack shorter and less unbearable.
I am more than my pain
When my back pain was at its worst, I remember lying in bed and all I could think about was the place in my hip where it hurt. And one day I thought, that’s not all I am. I’m not that sore. What if I separate myself a little from the pain? There was something incredibly liberating and useful about it.
For me, this is what radical acceptance is all about: being able to separate ourselves from everything that is happening in our body and our mind and to see that there is an internal part of us that cannot be hurt or damaged. A part, no matter what happens, it’s just me and not my pain.